Have you ever wondered what a tiny thread of fabric looks like? Or maybe why textiles are able to have so many different properties? Why does linen feel so light and breathable while silk is so smooth and luxurious? What enables cotton to be so versatile and wool to be so warm and water resistant? The answers to these questions take root in the chemical structure of each textile’s individual fibers and the interaction between these neighboring fibers. In the field of biochemistry, the central mantra “Structure Determines Function” drives exploration and understanding. To understand what a molecule or protein can do and what properties it has, we can look to its structure. This reasoning and method of exploration holds true in textiles as well. This unit introduces and explores the similarities and differences between the chemical structures of a brief survey of textiles.
Students are familiar with the importance of shape in everyday, visible life. For example, fine point sharpies are used for detail work while chisel edge is used for poster print; sleek and sporty cars are driven for speed while heavy-duty pickup trucks are used for construction and transporting. Unfortunately, students often fail to carry this concept over to their microscopic studies of biology and chemistry. Shape and structure, however, is pivotal to the function and properties of even small molecules and proteins, and it is this microscopic structure that determines the macroscopic properties that we can see and experience. This theme can be explored at smaller levels with molecules as simple as water and hydrocarbon chains. Through this unit, students will use simple molecules to explore the different forces of attraction and repulsion that determine the shape and properties of simple, yet important molecules in our world. In turn, they will then use this knowledge to better understand the biochemical reasons for the variety of textiles we have today and their unique properties and uses.